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Environmental sciences online master’s program yields career rewards for graduate

Oregon State’s expertise in natural sciences gave alum the confidence ‘to make a difference in the real world’

By Tracy Scott

Kaitlin Thurman spent her childhood and early adult life among urban forests, wildlife and marine animals. Growing up near St. Louis, Missouri, and traveling the globe as a child inspired her to work as an aquarist, fisheries biologist and chemist before enrolling in Oregon State University’s M.S. in Environmental Sciences online program.

Despite the global pandemic, Thurman was determined to gain the knowledge needed to help maintain healthy urban forests and advocate for wildlife preservation. She credits her Oregon State degree for her ability to land a coveted position shortly after graduation that allows her to pursue those goals while doubling the pay of her previous position.

When she retraces the path that led to her current role as an environmental analyst for local government, she points to four ways OSU Ecampus and its natural sciences and conservation program helped make her dream a reality.

1. Academic advisors provide unwavering support.

Before enrolling online with Oregon State, some prospective students wonder whether they’ll receive the academic support needed to succeed in an online environment. Thurman admits that she initially had the same concerns. But like other Ecampus graduates, Thurman has fond memories of her advisor.

“I owe a lot to my advisor, Brent Steel. He gave me solid guidance and trusted me to complete my degree the way that I wanted,” she says.

2. Hard skills are transferable to the workplace.

Oregon State’s online programs give students the tools needed to succeed in their area of study. For example, students in programs focused on natural sciences also learn how to objectively analyze policy — a critical skill for someone in Thurman’s role.

“You have to be 100% unbiased and willing to separate yourself from the issue,” she says. “I learned those types of skills through specific courses at OSU.”

Thurman believes her degree’s final project ultimately led to landing her current job. It focused on developing and maintaining ecosystem services in the local area. Whether or not her research and findings are used for future initiatives, she’s convinced the ability to demonstrate her skills made all the difference.

“Without the research I completed for my OSU final project, I wouldn’t have stood out amongst the other candidates for the position,” she says.

Thurman also credits Oregon State with teaching other hard skills she regularly uses, such as writing proposals and mapping out complex planning projects.

3. Programs help develop the soft skills necessary for success.

The ability to effectively communicate science-focused strategic initiatives to those who don’t work in the field can be challenging. But OSU Ecampus gave Thurman the soft skills needed to share her knowledge with others.

Shortly after starting her new job, she was invited to present several workplace initiatives to nonprofit organizations and discuss the relationship between public works and environmental programs with college students.

“The knowledge I gained at OSU helped give me the confidence to share what I’ve learned with others,” says Thurman.

4. Earning an Oregon State degree online provides unexpected benefits.

Before enrolling online with OSU, Thurman often felt pressure to measure up to seasoned professionals in the field. But since completing her master’s degree — which is offered online by the OSU Graduate School — working with people 10-plus years older and with more industry experience is no longer a concern.

“I felt more credible after receiving my degree from OSU because I’d gained the skills needed to make a difference in the real world,” she says.

Thurman also sees an opportunity to give back to society through her new position. “I believe I’m making a positive change not only for the environment, but for young girls,” she says. “Sharing my knowledge and possibly being a role model for girls makes me hopeful that through this job, I’m impacting the community for decades to come.”

Learn more about Oregon State’s online programs in natural sciences

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